The Makers Barn

Jun 21, 2024 | General, Local Business

Inside the Makers Barn, Petworth

It’s a miserable, wet, Saturday afternoon in February when I arrive at The Maker’s Barn, Petworth. I am there to chat to dynamic owner Rosie Rendell. I’m greeted with a curtain over the doorway, which enchantingly I have to throw aside to enter. This reveals an Aladdin’s cave of beautifully crafted treasures. In the soft, half-light I can see hurdles hanging on the wall, bundles of bean and pea sticks. There are also piles of soft sheep skins, creative antler lamps, ceramics, shrink pots, besom brooms, and willow baskets of every shape and size. Not that I have ever seen one, but it feels a lot like a prop room for a medieval film set. There is even a singing Robin, who you must not look at in case he poos on the ‘props’.

Inside the Makers Barn, Petworth

A rare breed

Rosie is not only the brains behind The Makers Barn but one of a rare breed of female coppicers, hedge layers and greenwood workers. It’s a line of work she claims she “accidentally fell into” after taking a hurdle-making course at West Dean College just over 15 years ago. It was with the late, great collier and woodsman Alan Waters. Later, struggling to remember exactly what to do, she contacted Alan for a refresher. He kindly talked her through the steps once again, then offered her an apprenticeship. She said some had doubts about her sticking with this challenging work. However, here in 2024, standing before a beautiful black and white photo of Alan, she is clearly very proud to be continuing his legacy.

Outside of the Makers Barn, Petworth

While most people will be familiar with hedge laying and hurdle-making, less will know what a coppicer does. Coppicing is a sustainable process of small-scale woodland management. It is one where the relationship between man and nature is completely inter-dependent. This is because traditional coppice trees like hazel and sweet chestnut benefit from being successionally cut. If done properly, these trees keep providing the coppicer with greenwood for their craft making year after year. An incredibly simple and time-honoured process that has served woodsmen well for centuries.

A coppiced woodland

All weathers

With the rain clattering down on the barn’s tin roof it seemed appropriate to ask about Rosie’s chosen line of work and the great British weather. Coppicing and hedge laying are both winter jobs as the tree sap must be down. Although very much enjoying being inside today beside the lovely warm, wood-burning stove, Rosie said that she is outside in all weathers.. except snow. “Once out in it it’s ok, it’s just rain. Keeping your head dry is the key”. Standing there in my baseball cap, which is almost permanently on my head outdoors, keeping both rain and sun out of my eyes, I have to agree.

Rosie Rendall coppicer and owner The Makers Barn

Working with wood

To look at Rosie in the barn you would never guess her day job, that is until you see her hands. Coppicers and greenwood workers are renowned for having “wrists like steel machines” and “hands like leather gloves”. Rosie is no exception. Coppicers are also usually seen as solitary and quirky characters, who enjoy getting lost in the repetitive nature of the work and nature. However, I would not put Rosie in that box. Watching her in warm conversation with customers, suppliers, and friends, she has spark. This is probably why she is the catalyst bringing everyone together under the roof of The Maker’s Barn: a one-stop shop for all your local, traditional, craft products.

Hazel plant markers

Maximise value

With more than 15 years of experience behind her, and now apprenticing her daughter Poppy, I asked Rosie what her most important lesson has been working in the woods. Her answer was that “every twig has value, and that you have to maximise that value”. These words of wisdom apparently came from famous, local woodsman Ben Law. She then showed me a bundle of short wooden pegs to help mark lines of seeds. These sticks were once on the rubbish heap. Now they are being sold in the barn as a delightfully rustic addition to anyone’s vegetable patch.

Rosie is clearly someone who has boundless energy, fizzes with ideas and doesn’t do down time. The phrase ‘to hang up your boots’ comes from retiring woodlanders leaving their footwear in the woods at the end of their careers. However, we won’t be seeing Rosie do this anytime time soon. She is much in demand for her hedge laying and fencing products. She also has to keep her patch of coppice in good condition and her hand on the tiller of The Maker’s Barn. This only opened in April 2023, but it is already firmly established on the local scene. There are also further exciting plans for 2024. Rosie would particularly like the barn to become a centre for learning traditional skills. This would help secure the next generation of coppice workers and craftspeople.

Why not show your support for our unique Wealden heritage by visiting the Maker’s Barn, just outside Petworth (open Fridays and Saturdays).

 

If you’ve enjoyed this post you may also like: A Woody Western Weald

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